Friday, November 04, 2016

British Court Rejects Imam's Defamation Claim Against BBC

In Begg v. British Broadcasting Corp., (EWHC, Oct. 28, 2016), a British trial court dismissed a defamation claim brought against the BBC by the chief imam of a London mosque.  The claimant,  Shakeel Begg, sued over a description of him included in a BBC current affairs television program. The court concluded however that:
the words complained of ... are substantially true in their meanings: (1) The Claimant is an extremist Islamic speaker who espouses extremist Islamic positions. (2) The Claimant had recently promoted and encouraged religious violence by telling Muslims that violence in support of Islam would constitute a man’s greatest deed.
In an interesting portion of its analysis, the court said:
I turn to consider what is properly to be considered “extreme” in the context of Islam and Islamic doctrinal positions. It is necessary to do so in order to determine that the BBC’s plea of justification for the [words complained of] is made out, viz. “The Claimant is an extremist Islamic speaker who espouses extremist Islamic positions”. The various speeches and posts relied upon by the BBC were given by the Claimant on Islamic issues in his capacity as an Imam and directed to predominantly Muslim audiences. The analysis of what is “extreme” and what are “extremist Islamic positions” is, therefore, necessarily to be judged initially through the prism of Islam.
Then the court (beginning in paragraph 118) sets out ten teachings or beliefs that meet the definition of Islamic extremism. reporting on the decision notes that this is one of the last cases based on laws that preceded the 2013 Defamation Act.  That Act changed the defense of "justification" to the defense of "truth".